MARS is the Monash Apple Retrieving System, developed by Dr Chao Chen of Monash University’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. MARS has been developed as part of a three-year research project to improve orchard efficiency and address agricultural labor shortages. The robot works autonomously, identifying fruit, avoiding obstacles and self-driving through the orchard rows as it harvests.
The MARS robot is made up from three components:
- The vision system, identifying/detecting the position of the apples
- The robotic arm that carries the ‘hand’ to the target apples
- The soft robotic hand itself, with a suction cup and gripper
MARS testing took place at Fankhauser Orchards over the 2021 harvest. During the two-week testing periods in February and April, Dr Chen’s team put MARS to work first on Smitten apples, then Pink Lady, all within the specially constructed 2D orchards.
Beyond the practicalities of harvesting, Dr Chen sees robotic innovations such as MARS as a new way of attracting young people to orchards with exciting Agtech.